Friday, November 30, 2007


I ran across this cute gadget a few days ago. Click on the link below to find out what kind of holiday treat you are...

You Are a Gingerbread House

A little spicy and a little sweet, anyone would like to be lost in the woods with you.

Serendipity: Herb is a gingerbread house too! We could be a little village...

As long as I'm talking about gingerbread click here for a low cal version of the holiday treat! Fun, eh?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Good Pie Gene

Yes, there is a pie gene. What is so difficult about a flaky crust, people?
Here's the secret - it isn't the recipe, it's the technique. A heavy hand, a bad attitude, inattention to the 'now' of the dough... if you aren't committed to the pie, it won't be good. (She said in her Mr. Miyagi voice.)

The pie gene can be transmitted to others. Then they can help you in the kitchen. Especially useful on those bad attitude days. I've passed the gene to Herb and Herb Jr. so we're covered.

What is truly amazing is that Pat and Tony are just now beginning to sound like they are becoming interested in cooking - THANK YOU FOOD CHANNEL!

After a lifetime of pie making, it really does make pie making more fun when one does the filling and the other does the pastry. And having passed the baton to Herb for the pastry end of the project, I'm happy to do fillings when needed.

What brings on this pie reverie? We just finished our third pumpkin pie in two weeks. The first, to adjust the recipe for the 2007 pumpkin filling (every year the pumpkin filling is slightly different.) The second, for company on the holiday itself (along with a Northern Spy apple and a Detroit blueberry). And the third we just made to have another pumpkin pie to go with leftover turkey - it was so good this year.
I'd better quit now, I feel an emoticon coming on:)

So why am I talking about the pie gene? I thought last year I'd lost it! My pumpkin pie filling last year was overspiced and heavy. (No one said so, but a cook doesn't need folks to tell you when something isn't up to par.) Looking back I figure my fresh spices were stronger than I'd been used to... I'm usually heavy on the spice, and I'd purchased some really nice strong ground cinnamon from Frontier where you select from cinnamons determined by country of origin and percent of oil. So this year I measured more carefully, adjusting for the strong cinnamon.
But the heaviness was the question. I like a light but still creamy pumpkin filling. This year what worked was to make sure I beat the eggs before stirring in the rest of the ingredients, and then making sure to whisk the filling one last time before filling the crust and immediately slipping it into the 425 degree oven to start before turning it down to 350 to finish.
Technique, paying attention, what did I say.

People who sit there and tell you about the great deal they got on a five dollar pumpkin pie at the grocery store have no taste buds, you might as well give them a Mickey Dee and call it a day.
Along the same vein, I hear paint by number paintings from the 60's are collectible now.

Anyway I though I'd share my tips for flavoring pumpkin pie filling. Do the regular recipe whichever way you make it - my mom used evaporated milk and I use Eagle Brand, either way is good. Use two eggs and add a swig of vanilla extract. And finally, add a solid dollop of molasses, which gives the cooked pumpkin a deeper flavor.

Always looking for a new technique is what keeps cooking fun, so next year when I go to roast my pumpkins, I'm thinking I'll drizzle them with a bit of molasses at that stage, just to see what the difference will be.

I'm one of those old school people who loves Thanksgiving - family, food and peace. The stores were shoving aside the garden merch for the Christmas merch back in September, so I'm yearly becoming more curmudgeonly about The Halloween-Christmas convergence. Thanksgiving is the non-commercial holiday. A last look at the past year. Tomorrow, December first turns the page and for me that means a turn of season. Please don't be sucked in with the commercialization of a meaningful passage of time. It's all about your time, folks, and how you spend it.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Break from Holiday Music - with more Holiday Music

If you can only hear the classics like Frosty the Snowman or Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree once or twice before becoming tired of them, here's a change of pace: today I'm listening to some interesting streaming Christmas albums from Sufjan Stevens here. I particularly like the original work ... but you have to look for them, they're mixed in with traditional music in the 5 albums. Check these out: We're Going to the Country, It's Christmas Be Glad!, Put the Lights on the Tree, Come On Let's Boogie to the Elf, That Was the Worst Christmas Ever, Hey Guys It's Christmas Time, Did I Make You Cry on Christmas Day? (Well You Deserved It), and Christmas in July, and Sister Winter.
If you look around you can find a link to more Sufjan info ... (Sufjan family photo courtesy of

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Worried About the Toys?

Consumers Union has an updated page on product recalls: NOT IN MY CART

Monday, November 26, 2007

turkey'd out - with a heritage turkey

Yep, three nights of eating leftover turkey does the trick. I'm turkeyed out.
The holiday was good, most of our local family made it, and Patrick's absence will only serve to remind us all to press him more insistently to come home next year.
The mashed potatoes just weren't the same.
Ah well, he already has his plane ticket to come home for Christmas.

But I did want to tell you about our turkey this year. We inadvertently had a Barbara Kingsolver Thanksgiving, a la her fine book, Animal Vegetable, Miracle, which I read this summer, at the time never thinking I'd have the chance to buy a heritage turkey for our table.

But a few weeks ago I was at a centennial farm in the neighborhood, buying some straw bales to use in my garden, and the subject of turkeys came up. I saw some turkeys in a wire pen in a side yard, and some more 'pet' turkeys running around in the backyard, and asked the owner if turkeys were as dumb as people say (no)... and we got into a conversation.

The family had been tossing around some ideas, CSA farming for one, and my enthusiasm got me on their call list in case they decided to harvest their birds. So I got the call!

Bring a cooler and a check, and the fresh homegrown and local turkey was mine:)
(I'm sorry about that happy face emoticon, I do them in e-mail, and it somehow just fits, although I know they are a dumb substitute for what I should be doing here, words.)

These turkeys were raised by this farm family from eggs, and kept in a large moveable pen to give them the nutrition, cleanliness, and mental health of free birds. (I know, 'sing Free Bird', hehe.)

Weeds, as every herbie knows, are chock full of nutrition. Mixed weeds have the goodness of deep green, and their diversity brings each weed's uniquely healthful qualities to the turkey that consumes it, and by that path, to our plates.
Same for the little bugs that the turkeys consume in their pecking. The ground that the pen laid on the previous week is pecked clean and naturally fertilized. And the birds are protected with fencing from the devestation of fox, coyote, and running into the road.
The moveable pen idea is a good one - I think it's called a "tractor" in some circles, as in 'chicken tractors', you can google it.

The farmer, Ginny, was quite interested in cooking methods; she suspected that these birds might be too different from what we are used to eating, and the preparation might be an issue. As with most animals who get exercise, the muscles are darker and more flavorful. She'd done some research and gave me a printed out recipe I can, through the wonders of the internet, share with you now:

Now Ginny can rest assured, our turkey was delicious! But it was a little different from the butcher shop Amish fresh turkey that I usually buy.

The shape - it was long, pointy and svelte! I was expecting to feed 10 adults, and the turkey was only 12.3 pounds, so I bought a back up turkey breast (see above). But we never had to even slice into the backup bird. I sent sandwich material home with Skip and Tree.
I had to roast the birds in the oven, not the roaster I had planned on and the legs hung over the side of the pan. When I was making stock later, I noticed the leg bones and breast bone were noticeably longer than any turkey bones I'd ever seen!

RECIPE: Roasted Heritage Turkey

My roasting method was to put the unstuffed bird on a rack over a pan, breast side down, and start it in the oven at 475 degrees, turning it down to 260 degrees after a half an hour. Altogether the roasting time was 4 hours for our 12 lb. bird.
Before roasting, I crammed the cavity with handfuls of freshly cut parsley, sage and rosemary, and an onion, and "larded" the top with four large strips of good bacon, and never had to do another thing.
The pan-drippings made great gravy and the stock was excellent.

Anyway, I read a nice quotation a few days before Thanksgiving that I'd like to underline here:

"The company makes the meal."

The turkey was good and worth remembering, but the family, going out of their way to be together, is the best part of Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

My Lady Bug

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Holiday Spirit, part 2

If you missed the Ladies Night Out evening at Crossroads Village on Monday, you oughta plan to do it next year!
The Master Gardeners had a spectacular table that I know they worked on for weeks, and there was a community project having to do with making afgans, but I'm really not crafty. I did, however sign a strip of the quilt the ladies of the Village will be piecing together to show next year. I wrote Merry Christmas & Peace on Earth and signed the names of all of my girls - hopefully next year we can all see it together.

I had a nice chat with a lady who raised alpacas - she spins their fiber and had felted some very nice bags and hats and things. There was plenty to look at and sample in the Village - food, decorations, music, and the weather was still not so darn cold that we couldn't spend time walking around and drinking it all in. I want to thank Milli (even though, yes I know, she doesn't use computers and won't be reading this) for a nice walk around the Village - I'm keeping her in my thoughts.

Back in the Warehouse, the ladies of the GCHS did our part, with a couple of complementary "make and take" projects for the visitors: lavender buds in a bit of tuille, tied with ribbon for drawer sachets, and bath tea bags: scented epsom salts in heat-sealable teabags. So many of the guests had questions about herbs and the Herb Society, it made a good outreach event for our group.

I did have enough sense to bring my camera at the last minute, and even with the low lighting in the Eldridge house, got a few photos to share with you. Our dear old Eldridge House looks pretty good, doesn't it, like something out of another, simpler time...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Getting in the spirit

I had a great day Saturday at Crossroads Village, working with the ladies of the Genesee County Herb Society. While one team worked in the Eldridge House, decorating that mid-1880's family home for the Christmas season with historically appropriate, natural and mostly herbal decorations; ourdoors we gardeners cleaned and put to bed the culinary herb garden, the fragrance and cutting garden, and the doctor's medicinal garden at the Doctor's office next door.
There's Norma, our president.
The kitchen smells like cinnamon and herbs when you walk in from the cold.

(Hi Milli, Sharon and Joanne!)
Here's the doctor's office, from the backyard:

And the doctor's garden (there's Diane):

I must say, Michigan can have some glorious, memorable autumn days.

(A note to the ladies of the Genesee County Herb Society: if you'd like to see more photos of our doings, double click on the orange Flickr badge on the right side of the screen... for the 'friends only' viewing permission to see more GCHS photos, write to me and I'll pop an invite in the e-mail.)

Thursday, November 08, 2007

My latest caper(s)

Sounds like a spy novel, eh? No such luck, just more garden trivia.

Well, a heavy frost has hit the nasturtiums and they are history. I did enjoy their reliable perky brightness this year, although why I planted the common mix instead of one of the really pretty varieties is a question for later.
Here's a photo:

The l-o-n-g hot summer of 2007 encouraged the annuals around here to bloom prolifically and lots of flowers means lots of seeds, if'n you don't go and kill off all the local pollinators with chemicals...

I'd always read and heard in herbie circles that you can make a pretty good substitute caper with the "buds" of nasturtiums but it took me this long to try it. For one thing I didn't cook with capers, being the chief cook and bottle washer for a gang of three hungry boys and their dad. Capers were always a tad la-te-da and I was busy and HAVE YOU SEEN THE PRICE of a bottle of capers?

For another thing I never knew what was meant by 'buds', I always considered buds to be immature flowers. NO, folks, the part you make nasturtium capers with is the unripened seeds.

Care for the recipe? It's really easy and a great payback on the price of a packet of seeds. that, and I got to enjoy the flowers all summer, right up until October.

Nasturtium Capers

First dissolve 1 Tbls. kosher salt in 1/2 cup water. (Boiling in the microwave does it fast.) Allow to cool to room temperature. While the salt water is cooling, gather about a half a cup of unripe nasturtium seeds (anything from indian bead size to fully expanded but still green), and wash if needed and remove any stems.
Add the seeds to the salt water and allow to soak for 24 hours.
The next day, drain the seeds, place them in the jar you want to save them in, and cover with 1/4 cup boiling vinegar. Cap and refrigerate.

This recipe makes a small jar. These measurements are all approximate, I don't know how it could be easier. The vinegar can be flavored with herbs if you like, or try different kinds of vinegar.
The color isn't as green as capers, but maybe adding some ascorbic acid to the salt water might remedy that. I notice the caper jar's list of ingredients includes ascorbic acid.
They are a bit crispier than real capers which may disappear in time, and there is a slightly different peppery nasturtium-ish flavor, but they are a pretty close approximation to capers. On the other hand, you made them. You know how they were grown and how they were processed, and they are from your backyard. Cool.

Here's what they look like, my nice crispy nasturtium capers (on the right) and the store bought real capers for comparison:

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Farm Bill

The Farm Bill is up for debate in the Senate this week. Please take a look at my cranky blog to see what's at stake and what you can do. The model is there for an easy phone call you can make.

This is a bipartisan issue: the solution is conservative in the best sense, and progressive in the best sense. For family farms, for wise use of resources, for nutrition programs, for our shared values, call.

Monday, November 05, 2007


ab·scis·sion [ ab sí sh'n ]
1. cutting off: the act of suddenly cutting something off
2. detachment of parts from plants: the natural process by which leaves or other parts are shed from a plant
[Early 17th century. < Latin abscission-< abscindere "cut off" < scindere "cut up, divide"]

My tree of life has lost a branch, damn canker.
All we can do is hope for the spring.
Root, sap, the reemergence of green leaves, flowers and fruit.
Meantime, I will miss you, Kevin.

"A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds.
A good deed is never lost;
he who sows courtesy
reaps friendship,
and he who plants kindness
gathers love."
Basil (329-379 A.D.)

Thursday, November 01, 2007

dusting off some old files

Busy busy busy. Helped the veggie plotters clean up the beautiful veggie garden yesterday and spread 12 yards of compost over the beds, and then a friendly little ladybug...

and a tiny sweet pea...

... showed up at the door last night for tricks and treats, so I was pretty well tuckered out by ten o'clock.
(Nice, wasn't it, how the little ones ended up with a gardeny theme in their costumes:)

But the paperwork for the herb garden project is due, so today I had to spend time indoors getting organized. My least favorite part of anything, paperwork, record keeping, whateverrrr.
Anyhow, while I was looking in my old files, I ran across a powerpoint presentation that I'd made after the garden tour back in June.
I'd like to share it, but I can't figure out how to send these powerpoint things in e-mail. I did figure out how to turn one into a slide show without too much difficulty. So here it is, without the nice transitions and it isn't much different in visuals from the earlier Herb Garden Tour movie, but the story focus is slightly different, and I found another catchy folk tune to accompany... and the Henry Beston quotation says so much in favor of herbs, it's one of my favorites.